IBM is due to embark on a marketing campaign aimed squarely at stealing Dell's high-end server market. Big Blue is hoping to capitalise on Dell's announcement at the end of last month that it had killed off a joint development project with Intel for an eight-way P4 server.

To this end, IBM claims to be offering Dell customers a "lifeline" in its big boxes. Although what it is reportedly offering is a 15 per cent discount on top of normal discounts for any Dell customers that make the shift.

The situation highlights an increasing split in the server market between big boxes for big jobs and the clustering techniques that see smaller machines link together to act as a big machine. Idealists will clearly see all sorts of advantages to the clustering approach - as do many of the big computer manufacturers - but IBM lives on the big servers and the "no one gets fired for buying IBM" mentality is still out there in companies across the world. Besides there's something reassuring about a big, bulky self-contained server.

Dell's decision not to go with an eight-way server and so just step over the line into the big box market is no one near as significant as IBM would have us believe however. The eight-way server market is a tough one and already populated with HP, IBM, NEC and others. Dell would have had its work cut out. It makes a lot more sense then to stick with two and four-way servers and push clustering technology as the way forward.

Meanwhile IBM will be telling everyone that its xSeries machines, out early last year, and its BladeCenter servers, released at the end of 2002, are the future. How successful it will be at persuading people to stick with the tried and trusted (the majority of the market at the moment) and subsequently at poaching Dell customers, only time will tell.